The Garden of Environmental Justice

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The Garden of Environmental Justice brings together elements that I believe are important, and in some cases, necessary, to advancing the environmental justice movement. These aspects of environmental justice have come up in many of the topics covered in class from gentrification to food deserts to toxic waste/chemical facilities.

  • Understanding and Recognizing Privilege
  • Inclusivity and Diversity
  • Community Input and Engagement
  • Grassroots Organization and Community Mobilization
  • Youth Power
  • Education and Raising Awareness
  • Corporate and Government Accountability
  • Allies and Supporting Organizations

Food deserts and insecurity

Technology /engineering field, being conscious of who my work affects and whether they are truly beneficial/useful for the communities/audience that uses/consumes them

Greenwashing

What have you learned about different communication approaches regarding issues of environmental justice? (You can reflect on the narratives used by our guides at Veggielution and Chinatown Alleyway Tours, perspectives on how different forms of media approach EJ issues differently, as well as the course readings and your own experiences.) ! How might your experience in this class shape your understanding of the particular fields you plan to enter? What new goals can you now set for yourself as a student, activist, young adult, prospective employee as a result of what you have learned in this class?

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Article Spotlight: Perspectives on the California Drought

Article Spotlight:

The California Drought: Who Gets The Water And Who’s Hung Out To Dry?

Earthjustice’s feature on the The California Drought: Who Gets The Water And Who’s Hung Out To Dry? presents multiple perspectives on the crisis. The article shares a range of voices including independent farmers, ranchers, and fishermen in the Bay Area Delta, a water policy expert, and a Native American tribal leader in California. Earthjustice raises concerns about the interests of industries such as commercial agriculture and fracking in California as the drought continues:

That wasteful, polluting practices like oil and gas exploration are allowed to continue in the midst of an acute water shortage shows there is still a long way to go toward rethinking the management of such a precious resource. That massive, taxpayer-subsidized farms are planting water intensive crops like almonds in the middle of semi-arid regions that, even in a wet year, don’t naturally receive enough rainfall to sustain the crops should force a similar rethinking of California’s agricultural practices.”

I thought this article effectively demonstrated that the question of water rights, especially in a time of scarcity, cannot be resolved simply. Oftentimes, the people who are most severely affected by the drought also depend on water in some way for their livelihoods, and ensuring equity can become a problem when it’s individuals against industries fighting for the same limited resources, for survival.

 

Cultivating Change

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Veggielution Work Day

A bright stretch of farmland with hand-painted signs welcoming you in is not the first thing you would expect straight off the highway on the east side of San Jose, but that is exactly what you will encounter on South King Road. As an urban farm with a mission to “connect people through food and farming,” Veggielution seeks to preserve the agricultural history of the Santa Clara Valley.

During our class tour, the farm manager discussed how Veggielution has come to understand the importance of getting community input for a community space like an urban farm. In consideration of their Spanish-speaking local community, cooking classes hosted at Veggielution are conducted in Spanish with English translation available, rather than the other way around. The farm also has a program in place to hire and train members of the community about food-based entrepreneurship. It is also planning to start field trips to the farm for local middle schoolers.

I saw a connection between my Veggielution experience and readings about urban hazardous waste in the Bay Area through the engagement of the youth in a community, the generation with the means to build on the progress made before them. Whereas Veggielution grapples with its role in engaging and educating the youth who come to the farm, young activists in the EPA Youth United For Community Action (YUCA) organization are the ones taking it upon themselves to educate their community, as well as those from elsewhere, about environmental justice.

This goes back to a question that has come up during our weekly discussions: what is the most effective way to bring about change in a community? At the heart of it all, local grassroots efforts that are conscious of the needs of the community or come from within the community itself have consistently seemed to be the most impactful.

Gardens and Growth

carrots“When you teach someone to grow a vegetable, you teach them to grow and change in life, and teach them to transform themselves as well as the land.” ­–Wanda Stewart, Director of People’s Grocery

The first time I stepped onto the Stanford Farm and walked through the neat rows of crops, I was captivated. There was something magical about such an open place in contrast with the buildings and construction work I usually pass on my rounds around campus. I felt distinctly present in the moment and grounded to the Earth. I was reminded that I was part of a larger world beyond my school life.

When I help out at the Stanford Farm today, I always find something very satisfying about digging and pulling at weeds until they finally give way. Even though my immediate actions are small, I know that the work I do will likely have a bigger significance down the line. With that personal experience, the stories of other community gardens in the Bay Area and how they impacted their visitors really resonated with me.

In East San Jose, a school garden serves as a respite from the struggles of the surrounding community, as well as a validation of cultural experiences that are often trivialized by those with more wealth and power. Similarly, the community gardens run by the People’s Grocery in West Oakland are not only a means to address the lack of nutritious, fresh produce in the midst of a food desert, but also a place for members of the community to come together to learn and grow and share their culture.

All of this leads me to believe that community gardens can perhaps be an effective place for building empathy and a better understanding of people with different experiences and backgrounds, as gardens have a special way of impacting people no matter their circumstances or location in the world. They remind us that, in the end, we all depend on the Earth; we are all a part of it and have the power to impact it in our own way.

References

3 Food Initiatives That Could Transform West Oakland’s Food Desert

The Garden Teacher- Part 1